Collection points proposal for children with complex needs to be subject of ‘full and thorough’ debate

County Hall. Photo: Bill Smith

County Hall. Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Bill Smith - Archant

A proposal to create collection points to take children with complex needs to school will be the subject of a 'full and thorough' discussion at committee.

Steve Morphew, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Steve Morphew, Norwich. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

At the end of May, Norfolk County Council revealed a proposal to form 'special educational needs collection points', which would see parents take children to a designated spot, rather than being collected from home.

It came amid a drive to save £1.4m from its £33.9m transport bill for children and adults, and the council said the four proposals put forward would give people more independence.

On Monday, the council's policy and resources committee was asked to create a business case for the option, along with another which would see parents and schools given more say over transport routes.

But councillors instead decided that its children's services committee should have the chance to discuss the options.

Andrew Proctor

Andrew Proctor - Credit: Archant

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Committee chairman and new council leader Andrew Proctor said: 'From my perspective I don't think policy and resources has the qualifications to consider this in detail.

'It will allow the children's services committee a full and thorough debate on the on the whole of the report to make sure what we do get out is the right sort of recommendation.'

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The motion to ask children's services to consider the first three proposals - collection points, co-design of route planning and improvements to personal transport budgets (PTB) to encourage more families to arrange their own transport - was passed unanimously.

Penny Carpenter, chairman of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee. Pic: Norfolk Co

Penny Carpenter, chairman of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee. Pic: Norfolk County Council. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

MORE: Vulnerable children could be taken to school from 'collection points' under cost-saving proposal

Steve Morphew, leader of the council's Labour group, said the decision was 'a good start' to Mr Proctor's council leadership.

'I was definitely very unhappy with a number of things with the report and recommendations,' he said. 'It has caused quite a lot of concern.

Dan Roper

Dan Roper - Credit: Archant

'I would be very pleased to see this go to children's services. This needs to be a seamless, caring service, not just a commodification of young people.'

He said it tied into a lack of school places at special schools, which needed to be addressed.

His sentiments were echoed by Dan Roper, leader of the council's Liberal Democrats group, who said the report felt as though it had been 'rushed' to committee.

'Ultimately we know this is about saving money,' he said, 'and the question I would ask is if this was a cost-neutral proposal, in each family case would we be supporting this based on the good for the child.

'If you take money away, is this the best for the child?'

Penny Carpenter, a Conservative councillor and chairman of the council's children's services committee, said she was pleased to see the proposals go to children's services.

The report - compiled by consultants - says that at two special educational needs schools in Norfolk, 45pc of pupils could access a collection point within 300 metres of their home.

They estimated that, when applying this across all 12 complex needs schools, the proposal could deliver savings of £312,000.

The council has also said that children needing individual pick-ups would still receive them.

A fourth proposal, to review historic adult social services transport arrangements, was approved at Monday's meeting, with two abstentions and two against.

The report says the option is about 'identifying those who could access provision closer to home that still meets their needs'.

The consultants estimated that the option could save £176,000.

Charity to fight proposal

A charity which supports parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) has urged parents to fight the proposal.

In a letter to parents, Norfolk SENsational Families said: 'It is vital that we do all we can to stop this from happening and ensure as many parents are made aware of this situation... We know everyone has very little time, and even less energy, but we must fight this.'

They said the feared the timing of the announcement - just before half term - meant it would slip under the radar.

Founder Nicki Price urged parents to write to their MP and local councillors.

What else was debated at committee?

• The children's services department saw a £4.53m overspend last year, with the number of looked-after children and demand for special educational needs places largely behind the cost.

• The council delivered 90pc of its planned savings in the year, which officers said was acceptable.

• And the body's debt has increase from £521m in 2016/17 to £533m as of March 31. But officers said, since then, the council had borrowed a further £10m due to low interest rates.

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